Newbie social networking platform Afingo.com’s inaugural industry forum, “Behind The Seams,” launched Friday at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Featuring a roster of editors, designers, entrepreneurs and academics, the event tackled subjects ranging from “Sustainability and Trend Forecasting” to “Marketing 2.0.” Not surprisingly, the latter panel, moderated by former IMG Fashion vice president Fern Mallis, focused predominantly on the increasingly integral role played by social media. Joined by the likes of WWD‘s technology editor Cate Corcoran and Gilt Groupe’s general manager for womenswear, Jyothi Rao, Mallis and company talked about leveraging power, bucking trends and putting money where your mouse is.
As evidenced by the number of brands boasting Facebook pages and Twitter accounts these days, having an online presence beyond e-commerce is, for many, crucial. “I’ve seen a sea change,” Rao explains of the jump in luxury labels flocking to new media, adding: “being in a multi-channel environment is critical.” Granted, what works for someone like Marc Jacobs (say, his Bang You’re It FB app, or Foursquare Fashion Victim badge) might not pan out for someone like Dries van Noten. Corcoran, for one, cautions against jumping on every new platform that comes along, having chronicled countless duds in her time.
One novel marketing technique that did pique Corcoran’s interest, however, came courtesy of relative unknown Jeff Silverman. A custom shoe designer, Silverman saw the value in allying himself with the online fashion community, turning his “store” into a widget that lives on Facebook and blog pages—anyone who puts the store on their page earns $15 when someone else orders from it. Similarly, burgeoning designers can—and should—take advantage of the web by forgoing a middleman like Barneys and selling directly to consumers. Of course, panelists gave big names high marks too, including Coach, which Corcoran believes did a stellar job of re-inventing itself online. Other standouts include Burberry for taking advantage of the immediacy afforded via straight-from-the-runway sales, and French Connection, which recently launched a stylist-guided YouTube shopping channel, YouTique, while, TechCrunch and Mashable are widely considered industry must-reads.
When it comes to monetizing technology, a platform like Facebook is a “convenient place to communicate with customers…but not necessarily the place where you’re going to sell clothing,” Corcoran concedes. So how does a company like Gilt Groupe do it? By making products scarce, and imposing time constraints. That, and word of mouth. “We think about it as putting on a show every day at noon,” Rao explains. “Our members market our brand.”
Consumers are also apt to take the bait when brands appeal to their self-interest and reward them via discounts, exclusives and even cash, à la Jeff Silverman. Even Corcoran found herself caught up: “I haven’t sent my design yet,” she admitted. “But I’m going to!”